The Next Step

By Steve Miller

I’ve heard many a “marketer” say that marketing is an art, not a science - it can’t be predicted and often can’t even be proven. True marketers would call that “advertising.” Efforts are aimed at “building awareness” with faint hopes that if we throw enough building awareness against the wall, some of it will eventually stick.

True marketers know this is plain poppycock. Marketing is much more of a science and, when done correctly, is totally measurable. As one of history’s most successful marketers, Joe Sugarman, says in his book, Marketing Secrets of a Mail Order Maverick:

Marketing’s function is not necessarily to entertain, inform, or communicate. Marketing has a very serious and direct purpose. It is to cause an exchange of one form of wealth for another.

Joe was best known for his BluBlocker sunglasses seen in those ubiquitous TV commercials at all hours of the night. We all now know those commercials as infomercials…designed to convince us of an important need we might not know we have and then motivate us to take immediate action. 

Isn’t it interesting that these types of marketing tools are seen as something different from the regular, familiar commercial? Clearly, infomercials are designed and produced to invoke a response. They are carefully crafted to walk a viewer through very specific steps of acceptance until the final “Call this number now!” or “Go to this website.”

Study several infomercials yourself. Take notes. Write down every step of the marketing process and notice how the producers choreograph your path. Yes, most infomercials we’re familiar with are long-form, up to 30 minutes long. But not all are! 

Like true marketers do, infomercial producers test every component, every step, every variable, every offer, every testimonial, and every response mechanism. A “control” infomercial is established and then they test changes, one item at a time. If a change in a testimonial brings higher response, that video now becomes the new “control” and the old one is dropped. They again test a small change until something creates still another higher response.  And on and on. This is what makes marketing scientific.

You may have heard or read my definition of marketing:

The RIGHT product

With the RIGHT message

To the RIGHT market

Using the RIGHT media

At the RIGHT time

When all of these are in alignment, it works. But for most of us (especially those in the B2B world), a 30-minute infomercial isn’t going to cut it. It’s just not that simple.

Joe Sugarman could sell directly to a consumer with a credit card and the ability to make an instant decision. He could test every aspect of his infomercial instantly. Most of us don’t have that luxury.

The biggest difference between us and Joe Sugarman is that we often have to take the prospect through a series of steps before we can get to the desired end result.

This is where most “marketers” fall down. They fail to recognize the need and importance of the Next Step, yet that’s exactly what the science of marketing is all about.

“What do you want to happen next? What’s the next step?”

When people ask me how to measure their marketing, that’s my question. Most don’t know the answer and most haven’t designed a campaign to do that.

Lead conversion does not mean, “convert to a sale.” It means, “convert to the next step.”

Think about it this way. Long before someone becomes a customer, they start as a Suspect. They belong to a large group of people and businesses we’ve identified as our target market. We SUSPECT there are future customers in that group, but we don’t know exactly who they are.

Through some type of culling out process, we uncover a smaller group of PROSPECTS.

Through yet another culling out process, we determine a number of these people to be LEADS.

Culling still again identifies which of this group are SALES READY LEADS.

And, ultimately, from this group comes our new CUSTOMERS.

In most cases, there are even more steps in between each of these designations. This is especially true once we’ve identified someone as a PROSPECT.

We need to understand that a PROSPECT is not a LEAD. A PROSPECT can fit the profile of our target market, but that doesn’t mean they have a need or any interest in what we’re selling. We need to get that PROSPECT to metaphorically raise their hand and say, “Yes, I’m interested in talking with you.”  And this might take a few steps.

For example, suppose we send a personal letter to our PROSPECT that invites them to view a free video about some problem they might have. That’s a step. They go watch the video and are offered a free whitepaper in return for their email address. That’s the next step. Once we have their email we can set up a series of autoresponders with more good information. Each email has an offer to have a free 20-minute consultation, or a free sample, or a free trial. That’s the next step. They respond affirmatively to this offer and your next step is to ask for the order. None of the other steps ask for the order. Each one has its own unique close and that is to get the person to the next step. Period.

Each of these steps must be set up and tested. What’s the response rate for the video? What can we change to test? How do we improve the response rate for each step? Maybe we should offer the whitepaper first and the video second? Test. Test.

Many marketers mistakenly try to skip steps. I’ve seen plenty of people identify an audience of SUSPECTS and literally go for the order in their first communication. Salespeople are often guilty of pushing for an order when the SUSPECT or PROSPECT isn’t ready.

The second mistake is when the offer (at any step) isn’t clear or it’s wishy-washy. “If you ever have a need for this type of product or service, just let me know and I’ll be happy to discuss it with you,” is not an offer. It’s making yourself available if it’s not too much trouble. “Feel free to call anytime,” puts the onus on the buyer. This comes from our fear of rejection. We want everybody to love us and like us, so we don’t close the deal. Each step has its close…its “ask for the order,” so to speak. Don’t leave it up to the buyer to someday contact you. Ask for the Next Step.

Correctly planned and implemented, every step is engineered to knock the next domino down. Each can be measured and predicted.

When you approach marketing as science instead of art, you harness its true power. 

Steve Miller is an author, a professional speaker, and business advisor, known for his edgy, no-spin-zone style. He will be the 2018 ABA Annual Meeting & Marketplace keynote speaker. For more information, visit

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